Thousand years ago, in the times of Kievan Rus’ – one of the most powerful states of the Middle Age, – honey and wax were main products of our state export, being supplied to all the countries of medieval world and forming the basis of domestic economy. Honey drinks were of a great popularity on those times too – our ancestors knew thousands of recipes for brewing them. People even called church holidays ‘mead’. Hence, no wonder that in our first Code of Laws called ‘Russka Pravda’ (The Truth of Rus’) and compiled by Yaroslav The Wise, beekeeping was paid more attention than any other topics – seven chapters.
It is interesting that mead played significant role in baptizing Rus’ in the X century instead of embracing Muslim faith, for example. Here is what the Chronicle says:
In the year 6494 (986), Muslim Bulgarians came and said: “You are a wise and clever prince but you do not know the God’s law. Have faith in our Law and bow to Muhammad”. Volodymyr (the Great – Prince of Kievan Rus’) asked: “What is your faith?” And they answered: “In God we trust and Muhammad teaches us and we must circumcise, we must not eat pork or drink wine or mead and when we die we get women for lustful satisfaction. Muhammad shall give each one seventy beautiful women and choose one beautiful woman and put the beauty of all of them in one and that one will be his wife…” Volodymyr listened to them because he himself liked women and lustful things and he enjoyed those stories. However, he did not like the part about circumcision and pork meat and especially about drinking. He said: “The fun in Rus’ is drinking – we cannot go without it”.
‘Tales of Bygone Years’ (Rus’ Chronicle in Ipatievsky register) Translated by O. Makhnovets.
Since ancient times the saint patrons of beekeeping in Ukraine were St. Zosima and St. Savvatiy who in the XV century founded the Solovetsky Monastery on a group of islands in the Russian North. According to medieval chronicles, from the very beginning of its existence the Monastery had a bee yard, and that’s why people believe that these two saints have taught people to keep bees. Here is one of the legends about their deeds: ‘The two saints kept a bee farm and looked over it, though they never sold their bees. Then God put them to sleep for three days. At that time, the bees flew around the forests and people would take over the apiaries.’ Not surprisingly, therefore, that the two saints are depicted on icons with different beekeeping equipment of that time, beehives and bees. Interestingly enough, in the past people always kept an icon with the image of St. Zosima and St. Savvatiy at the entrance to the bee yard, and beekeepers did not start their work without praying first. St. Zosima’s day is celebrated on April 30. There was a saying: ‘Greet the bee on Zosima’s day and there will be hives and wax’.
Not many people know that it was due to the bee-farming that the territory on which our people lived almost doubled owing to the bee-farming! The territory of Slobidska Ukraine (now it is the territory of Kharkiv, Donetsk, Sumy and partly Poltava regions) for a long time remained unpopulated until the first settlers came here at the end of the XVI century. Mostly these were older Cossacks, sometimes senior officers. Tired with war and military activities they were looking for peace and tranquillity. They made apiaries here, because beekeeping was closer to their souls that wanted conciliation. In particular, this was the way Ivan Sirko and Bogdan Kmelnitsky spent their last years. These territories suited this purpose most of all: they had lots of honey plants, virgin forests and the main thing was that they were protected against enemy raids. Thus, Cossacks stayed here and brought their families and friends. The farms grew around the apiaries, additional craft shops and residential buildings were constructed, roads, bridges and defence constructions were built. Eventually, in the middle of the XVIII century, the country was filled with small farms called ‘slobodas’. Therefore, the territory was called ‘Slobozhanschina’.
In January 1814 prominent Ukrainian beekeeper and scientist Petro Prokopovych (1775–1850) constructed the world first frame hive. That invention created a revolution in the apiculture.
In comparison, Rev. Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth who is erroneously considered by many a frame hive inventor, patented his movable frame hive only in 1852.
Today frame beehive is a standard for beekeepers in every country, and Ukraine is by right recognized motherland of the rational beekeeping.
The invention of frame beehive was not the only achievement of Petro Prokopovich. In 1827, he opened the first world school of bee-keeping in Baturin, where he paid out of his pocket for education of poor peasants, which included not only the beekeeping profession but also reading, writing and arithmetic.
Prokopovich had one of the greatest bee farms at the time, it had more than a thousand and a half bee families. Based on personal research, the scientist wrote a fundamental work on bee-farming called ‘Reflections about Bees’, which consisted of many volumes but unfortunately was never published.